Friday, February 3, 2017

Individualized Learning

A few recent experiences have me thinking about individualized learning. If you spend any time in the education sphere, you'll hear different phrases that express this idea--individualized learning, differentiated learning, personalized learning, focus on student needs. Now, before we go any further, I want to say that I'm all for this. In fact, I hope that every classroom at every level is thinking about a student's needs and how to help him or her succeed.

But I'm afraid that a lot of the methods "out there" give teachers and parents a false sense of actually meeting a child's need. Many times there's a heavy reliance on technology and software programs. This could be an effective way to help many kids and refine practice to focus on an individual's specific needs. But I think this is often as easy way to say we're providing individualized learning without really doing the hard work of providing individualized learning.

I love technology. While I'm not a part of the technology generation (translation: I'm old), I do try to keep up with what's going on. I'm willing to explore different ways to do things and I do not want to always do things the same way. However, I'm a little leery of claims that I just pull up a program, sit down kids at it, and they will get just what they need to build skills and progress.

A few years ago in the classroom, I was told practically this. We set up a new system; kids took assessments; kids would progress through their specifically designed lessons. I could get reports of how kids were doing. We only used it a few months (and then school was out), so I cannot give an accurate assessment of how effective this was. But I can say that I better understood what kids were doing and where they needed help when I sat down with them and watched them work or heard them talk about what they were doing.

The struggle I have: not all kids respond well to this type of practice or teaching method. Just like not all kids respond to doing a page of addition problems or work well in small groups or learn well by drawing pictures of the problem. One method does not fit all. Some kids need the motivation or extra support of someone sitting with them as they work. Some need to manipulate objects or touch things to make an understanding connection. I struggle with any method (technology based or not) that is billed as the way for all kids to progress or excel.

Well, any method except play. Offering a variety of materials and encouraging children to explore a skill, concept, or idea in their own ways is the best way for individualized learning (at least in my opinion). And "play" can include paper and pencil to work multiple math problems or write a story as well as blocks or paint or costumes. In my recent reading, I kept stumbling across the concept that in play, kids will explore whatever they need to learn. If we can introduce ideas and concepts, kids will explore them.

Individualized learning is more than just focusing on a child doing something by himself. It's more than looking at specific deficiencies (or strengths) and feeding practice to build or expand skills. It's really looking at children as unique persons - and finding ways to build on the natural excitement and curiosity that they have to know more about their world.

As a teacher, I'm not a tailor. I'm not measuring each child and creating a suit that fits him perfectly, individually. I should be interacting with the child and determining if he needs a suit or a parka or t-shirt and shorts. He doesn't need a closet of perfect fitting suits. He needs a wardrobe that fits who he is and where he is going.

I know that sounds idealistic, maybe a little naive, and even a little dumb. But it definitely sounds individualized to me.

1 comment:

  1. Sandy here from SandyReads. What you wrote right here is exactly the reason I don't see myself going back into the classroom. In the school that I worked in, the teachers that were still teaching had bought into that system. They would talk to me about DIBELS, etc. and how now they had all of this data on the kids in their classroom and knew exactly where the kids were. I am sorry, but no they didn't. I had to assess kids. Even when I would assess them, sometimes it would show that kids didn't know things that they did know. I would see them do it in play. When we're talking about young kids that's just not the way. I remember being ridiculed by a teacher saying that I could not know if a child knew how to do something from observation that a child had to be tested to see if she really knew. How does that make sense? For a child to be tested once on something to see if they know the material from observing over a long period of time whether the child knows the material or not?